USDA: Deadly baby pig virus likely came from China via feed bags

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported that the DNA of a virus found in China matches porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which responsible for killing more than eight million baby pigs in 2013 and 2014. It was also reported that it is likely the virus entered the U.S. through reusable tote bags used for transporting feed internationally.

Wiping out nearly 10% of the country’s hog population, PEDv drove bacon and pork chop prices to historic highs and until now, researchers were unsure how or where the outbreak originated. As explained in a recent article, several scenarios of how PEDv arrived in the U.S. and spread include accidental transmissions from foreign visitors, intentional infection, and virus transfer through China-made pet treats.

However, the USDA’s report states that the tote bags are woven, plastic fiber bags designed to carry 1,000 to 3,000 pounds. These were possibly reused but often not cleaned. Tests conducted on the virus vouched for its ability to survive for a number of weeks within the bags’ protective weave.

The bags could have become contaminated from fertilizer, compost, or wastewater from farms where they were stored before being shipped to the country. The article states that some veterinarians with direct links to farmers believe the feed supply may have been part of potential cross-contamination. Their distributors, for instance, service a large network of customers across the Midwest and beyond.

The deadly virus outbreak prompted changes in animal feed product handling policies, with the USDA recommending companies avoid reusing the bags or sanitize them.

The report also states that tote bags also transport chicken jerky, pig ears, and other pet treats from China to the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA looked at the link between the pig virus and pet deaths from jerky treats from China from 2012 to 2013 but as stated in the article, detected nothing of this nature.

While pork producers welcomed the developments from the report, they still dubbed the investigation “inconclusive” and according to Dave Warner, National Pork Producers Council spokesman, the organization “remains concerned” about gaps in animal health protection.

PEDv is believed to have first emerged in April 2013 in Ohio, spreading quickly to other states that include badly hit Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina. Based on estimates, the economic costs of the deadly piglet virus to the country could reach $1.8 billion.

Since the peak of the outbreak in 2014, new cases of PEDv have slowed but do not dispel fears of the virus returning. Earlier this year, a new strain was identified by researchers and signals that the virus is continuing to mutate.

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